A conservationist and art photographer explores the erotic aspects of trees.
For more than 20 years, Arbor has been creating intimate photos of trees and people together. The humans, which include herself and others, are nearly always nude, and the folds and curves of their bodies harmonize with the sinew of the trees. In one, the author prostrates herself, as if on an altar, along a platform at the base of a 285-foot mountain ash; in others, she reclines on a willow that appears as though it’s bending to drink at a nearby pool or nestles in the crook of a windblown Cyprus, the curve of her back in perfect accord with the outermost bough’s lurch to the left. In one black-and-white photo, she molds herself to the basal furl of an enormous fig tree, pressing her palms and her cheek against its bark, looking like something from the pages of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. “For tens of thousands of years,” she writes, “people took refuge under trees, held council under trees, and depended upon trees for survival.” Indeed, from even earlier. Anyone perusing Arbor’s book can’t help but feel eerily reminded of humanity’s distant ancestors—the earliest hominids—and how some of them would have lived nearly their whole lives in the vanished oaks and beeches of the Pliocene (“we lived in kinship with them,” she achingly writes of that forgotten past). Sometimes the models’ fetal poses in the trees drift toward the sentimental, à la Anne Geddes’ work, and some readers may be amused by the fact that sometimes the models are difficult to locate, bringing to mind Where’s Waldo? But such levity isn’t unwelcome, and it serves only to intensify the fact that humans can appear eerily camouflaged in nature. Fortunately, Arbor has a remarkable eye for how light and shadow shape the viewer’s experience of texture, and some pictures are every bit as powerful and haunting as Edward Weston’s images of bell peppers—or, for that matter, of trees. Forest giants from Tasmania to South Africa to Anatolia have never seemed so alive.
A vital, visually stunning photographic volume.